From The Hill:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to increase fees on phone users in order to boost funding for a program that provides Internet connections for schools and libraries.
The rule would increase the funding cap on the E-rate program by $1.5 billion, to a total of $3.9 billion per year.
All three Democrats on the commission approved the proposal, while both Republicans dissented.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he was “aghast at the hostility” at giving students a 21st century education, noting that the fee increase would be about $2 a year per phone line for customers.
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From the FCC:
By providing certainty about the future of E-rate funding, raising the cap enables schools and libraries to plan how best to upgrade their networks and at what pace. Today’s Order also takes further steps to improve the overall administration of the program and maximizes the options schools and libraries have for purchasing affordable high-speed broadband connectivity by:
Suspending the requirement that applicants seek funding for large up front construction costs over several years, and allowing applicants to pay their share of one-time, up-front construction costs over multiple years
Equalizing the treatment of schools and libraries seeking support for dark fiber with those seeking support for lit fiber. Dark fiber leases allow the purchase of capacity without the service of transmitting data – lighting the fiber. Dark fiber can be an especially cost-effective option for smaller, rural districts
Allowing schools and libraries to build high-speed broadband facilities themselves when that is the most cost-effective option, subject to a number of safeguards Providing an incentive for state support of last-mile broadband facilities through a match from E-rate of up to 10% of the cost of construction, with special consideration for Tribal schools
Requiring carriers that receive subsidies from the universal service program for rural areas – called the High Cost program – to offer high-speed broadband to schools and libraries located in geographic areas receiving those subsidies at rates reasonably comparable to similar services in urban areas
Increasing the certainty and predictability of funding for Wi-Fi by expanding the five-year budget approach to providing more equitable support for internal connections – known as category two – through funding year 2019
Full Text of Statement by ALA President Courtney Young
Connecting America’s libraries with high-capacity broadband connects our communities with opportunity and changes lives. Sometimes the government’s words are far greater than their actions—today is not one of those times. The Commission’s action is monumental and will make a critical difference for the libraries and schools in our nation, and even more importantly for the communities and students they serve.
“Today marks the culmination of more than 18 months of ALA’s extensive and unwavering advocacy on behalf of libraries across the country in connection with the FCC’s E-rate proceeding. In this proceeding, ALA advocated, among other things, that the FCC must address both the lack of affordable high-capacity broadband for the majority of libraries and the long-term funding shortage of the E-rate program.
“We are very pleased that the Commission, as ALA recommended, has removed restrictions that have prevented many libraries from getting the broadband they so desperately need. In addition, we applaud the Commission for recognizing our concerns regarding the funding shortage. Today, the FCC confirmed that it will add an additional $1.5 billion to the yearly program for libraries and schools.
“We congratulate the Commission for completing what amounts to re-engineering a 20th century telecommunications program and, after strategic review, reassembling it to make sure libraries can build and maintain the cutting edge networks that are the foundation for 21st century education, employment and entrepreneurship, community engagement, and individual empowerment—what is known as The E’s of Libraries™.
“There are countless examples of the transformative impact of investing in library broadband. These include everything from a Maine library’s virtual field trips with the Smithsonian Museums to a patron Skyping for a job interview at the Omaha Public Library (NE). In another example, using the video conferencing available at the library in Sitka, Alaska, an adoptive parent was able to train for over six hours with doctors, nurses, and medical company specialists regarding her foster son’s medical conditions. Going to Anchorage or Seattle was not an option as this parent is also an adoptive mother to 12 other children, all with disabilities.
“ALA warmly thanks the Commission for its strong leadership throughout the modernization proceeding in identifying a clear path to closing the broadband gap for libraries and schools and ensuring a sustainable E-rate program. Through the vision of Chairman Wheeler and commitment of the Commissioners and FCC staff to tackling numerous difficult issues, the E-rate program is well equipped for the future.
“ALA thanks the E-rate Task Force and our many partners, especially Alan Fishel, senior partner at Arent Fox and counsel to ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, who provided expertise that shaped our advocacy at the Commission. They were invaluable in raising the profile of libraries in this proceeding.
“Today’s vote coupled with the previous order brings ALA’s vision of a 21st century E-rate program for libraries to fruition. We’re rolling up our sleeves and look forward to the work ahead in making sure libraries in every state can take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity.”
- Fast facts on library broadband usage:
- Only 2% of libraries are at the FCC’s 1 gigabit goal.
- Half of all libraries report speeds of 10Mbps or less—only 10% of the goal.
- 1 in 5 rural libraries still report a 1.5Mbps connection.
- Two thirds of all libraries report they want to increase their broadband capacity.
FCC Chairman Expected to Propose 62% Increase in Funding Used to Wire Schools, Libraries with Broadband (November 17, 2014)
Includes link to FCC Fact Sheet